Suffolk: Horse riders’ fears over forests sell-off

HORSE riders in Suffolk fear Government plans to sell-off woodland could restrict their access to popular forest routes.

The Government is set to launch a consultation into the future of Forestry Commission-owned land and is proposing to sell off about 15% of its estate, which equates to 40,000 hectares.

The potential sell-off would raise �75million by 2015.

Ministers have said any change of ownership would not affect public access or special interest wildlife sites, but there are growing fears about the potential impact of a sell-off.

The future of the Sandlings Forests – including Rendlesham – and Thetford Forest remains in doubt.

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Horse riders said they feared that if a new owner took over forest land they could lose access rights currently agreed with the Forestry Commission. The same could apply to mountain bikers and other forest users.

Riders currently enjoy free access to forests on the same basis as walkers, but any new owner would not have to keep to the concession – or could charge for access. Horse riding groups Camino riders, Endurance GB and Anglian Distance Riders are campaigning against any sell-off.

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“At present, we enjoy free access as a concession and if we were to lose this access it would be devastating to us,” said Elizabeth Barrett, of Camino Riders, who lives near Stowmarket.

“The horse population in the east of England is high and, with increasing traffic, riding on the roads is becoming more and more hazardous.”

Janet Harber, of Anglian Distance Riders, said: “We feel very strongly about this.

“We have been in touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and have been told any new owner would not have to keep the same agreements we have now.

“At the moment, we enjoy wonderful, safe off-road riding and we don’t want to lose that.”

Mrs Harber moved to Sudbourne, on the edge of Tunstall Forest, 10 years ago.

She regularly uses the Sandlings forests at Rendlesham, Tunstall and Dunwich. She also takes part in regular events at Thetford, Harling and King’s forests

“Over 20 years or so I have been lucky enough to get to know and appreciate all the East Anglian forests very well. They are a local asset and should not be sold off,” she added.

A spokesman for Defra said: “We will consult on our proposals in the coming weeks to invite interest from a wide range of potential private and civil society partners on a number of new ownership options and the means to secure public benefits.

“No decisions have been taken on any particular sites.

“We will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests. The Forestry Commission has and will play an important role in protecting and expanding the trees, woods and forests in England.”

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